Cox, a lawyer who now represents NetChoice, a trade association of e-commerce businesses and online consumers, said that law enforcement authorities already have legal tools to go after the illegal sex and child-trafficking. Section 230, which he co-wrote, “provides no immunity whatsoever to defendants in federal criminal cases,” Cox argued.
Cox said that the best answer is not in new laws but in more vigorous prosecution under current ones. He said that federal prosecutors have not brought a single case under a 2015 law, also authored by Wagner, that criminalized the knowing distribution of advertising of sex acts outlawed under federal sex-trafficking laws.
Cox also warned that singling out sex trafficking in the Communications Decency Act will create “significant new legal ambiguities” when judges try to determine how it affects other online crimes, like murder-for-hire, or terrorism.
Cox said that Senate report, plus subsequent reporting by the Washington Post alleging that contractors have actively sought sex advertising for Backpage, should give prosecutors ample opportunity to go after the controversial site under current law.
“We need to have a solution to this problem that is consistent across more than 4,000 federal crimes and thousands more state crimes,” former Republican California congressman Christopher Cox said Tuesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. “We don’t have enough time in our lives to fix these crimes one at a time.”
Instead, Cox said the government should do more under existing laws to bring traffickers to justice.
“Section 230 was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that commit any crime,” said Cox, who helped pen the legislation along with then-congressman Ron Wyden in 1996. “If we enforced the statute the way it’s written, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
“Courts would have to give meaning to the fact that Congress singled out sex trafficking and no other offenses,” Cox said. “This would make it harder for them to reach the result we would all presumably want in, say, an internet terrorism case: that is, we would not want Section 230 to be a barrier to prosecution of a website that was complicit in creating web content in violation of laws against terrorism. Singling out one crime in a revised Section 230 could easily distort the results in other criminal cases.”
Meanwhile: Advocacy group NetChoice, which represents Facebook and Google, is taking a different tack by suggesting that law enforcement simply needs to better enforce existing laws to combat sex trafficking. “The DOJ already has all the power and permission it needs to prosecute trafficking sites and other bad actors like notorious sex trafficking website Backpage,” NetChoice said in a press release.